A Journey Out of Digital Illusions

8th April 2020 | Originally published on Medium | Revised in 2024

Travel has been my catharsis. I am not referring to reaching an exotic destination under the illusion of not being a tourist in a commercial trap. I mean those years spent on same-day return flights, speeding taxis, and overpriced hotels, keeping the heaviest footprint to “create” another (generally) useless product.

My days were a rollercoaster of stress and forced fun, deterioration of my mental and physical qualities, and a complete detachment from the environmental and emotional aspects of reality. For a decade, I simply grew more and more addicted to digital. I spent the majority of my waking hours making others rich. I often worked on shallow products, compromising for the sake of business. Excluding weekly tons of carbon dioxide, what was I giving to humanity?

While collecting miles for nothing, an unwelcome, unpleasant, and profound discomfort was growing – something stronger than the regrets one would imagine to have in case of a plane crash. I thought I had the method and tools to try something before seeing a shrink. I worked on framing my challenge, the context, and its constraints. After a few iterations of concerns, anxieties, and nightmares, my black notebook got full. To be extremely concise and honest:

  • I was one of many unhappy Westerners who were full of induced needs and flooded with junk to satisfy them.
  • I was too busy floating in the bubble to realize an unbelievable amount of people barely survived the day.
  • I felt the planet was on the edge of a catastrophe, but I still preferred pursuing my interests and convenience.
  • I was too scared of social degradation (including personal rejections, financial inclusion, etc.) to practice what I was preaching, to imagine a better alternative to the model I was serving and living for.

These insights are banal considerations but they need urgent and radical intervention. Dramatically, the majority of people in my social circles talk about them but do not take action. We have unprecedented access to knowledge, decisional power, and freedom but we still believe the Moon is made of green cheese: “Follow your vocation to help people, work hard, and be tech-optimistic about the future!”.

No, thanks. I resolved that I should

  1. reduce the footprint;
  2. try a different way of living;
  3. follow an alternative idea of design.

Change though is never immediate, and the effort and sacrifice required are proportional to its necessity. It took me months, a lot of readings, more notes, reviewed plans, harsh confrontations, a freezing sense of solitude, and some hard savings.

Luckily, #1 was the quickest and easiest part; in a few weeks, I convinced my top management to make us travel less, and by train.

This released some mental energy for #2: quitting my conventional design job and downshifting to a quiet, wild valley of the Dolomites -which so far is proving to be…interesting.

What holds me together is #3, being on a personal mission to explore the next, most important responsibilities for design – turning from an instrument of the self-destructing, global industry to a leading example of activism for localization.

It may sound ridiculous, and pathetic; some would brand it trendy, yet I would not be able to imagine a better solution for personal and collective hopes. This is a continuous, experimental setting where to live as part of a whole, making up with natural cycles again, learning to work with and for a community to imagine together alternatives for civil society. In a financially unsuccessful way, culturally distant from the tech-dominated world. Because we, designers, should be among the first to put ourselves on the front line.